New maids can learn new skills with launch of subsidised classes by charity

SINGAPORE - Employers can now sign their new maids up for subsidised classes in healthy cooking, massage, and Traditional Chinese Medicine for pain relief.

These classes are part of a support programme launched on Friday by the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (Fast), a non-government charity, to give newcomers a skills boost and help them adapt to Singapore culture.

The charity is partnering 14 maid agencies to offer this programme to new employers for free or at a fee not exceeding $50, in a six-month pilot starting next week.

The programme includes a half-day Singapore heritage tour, a year's membership at the charity's clubhouse in Raeburn Park in Tanjong Pagar, and $50 worth of vouchers to enrol in classes that are priced between $10 and $20.

The full cost of the programme is about $145, before subsidies from the charity's corporate sponsors.

Vickineswarie Jagadharan, 50, a school counsellor who has employed a helper for her mother, welcomed the initiative.

"When they reach the country and you give them something to take back home, it is a good move... It would be good for the helpers if they're willing to go for this," she said.

Carene Chin, managing director of Homekeeper, one of Fast's new partners, said the programme was a new milestone because they no longer focus on housework, but on skills upgrading.

When Ms Chin gave birth to her daughter 12 years ago, she enrolled in a class on right brain development. She also enrolled her helper, Aileen, who sat beside her in class.

"When the maid is being trained, she has more confidence. And after learning, she brings back the skills to my family. Even if it's not housework, whatever skills she picks up, it helps her mature," said Ms Chin.

JRS Business Express recruitment manager Bhuvanes Pillai, believes that the new programme will make employers more willing to give their helpers their mandatory days off, instead of cash-in-lieu.

Many households are "not willing to give the off days because we have heard a lot about maids going for off days and coming back with problems", said Ms Pillai.

"With this programme, they will have a different mindset," she added.

There are 220,000 foreign domestic helpers in Singapore, with 1,000 more arriving monthly, according to Fast's estimates. Its new programme will complement the one-day Settling In Programme, which is required for all first-time helpers.